A potential return to the Pac-12 Championship Game awaits the end of a difficult schedule
Oregon football rebounded from the steep drop suffered just a few years ago, rallying from a 4-8 finish in 2016 to go 7-6 in '17, and 9-4 last season. To truly deem the Ducks back requires a return to Pac-12 title contention. That may very well come in 2019.
Quarterback Justin Herbert returns for his senior season and a likely first-round NFL draft selection to follow. A veteran lineup surrounds Herbert. Oregon won't lack for experience or savvy, and in the second year under head coach Mario Cristobal, greater familiarity with the system should breed success. But while the Ducks are presumptive preseason favorites in the Pac-12, the schedule is arduous. Oregon opens with a high-stakes, neutral-site game against an SEC West contender, and must travel to face each of its two biggest North rivals on the road.
Oregon Ducks 2019 Schedule
Byes: Week 5, Week 11
Week 1 — Aug. 31 vs. Auburn (Arlington, Texas)
Last season, Pac-12 favorite (and eventual champion) Washington went into a neutral-site game against Auburn that national media deemed a College Football Playoff elimination contest. Despite the Huskies leading for much of the second half, and losing by less than a touchdown, the defeat became a talking point against the entire Pac-12. In 2019, Oregon will presumably carry the same banner for the entire league when it faces Auburn in Week 1.
Beyond the weighty playoff implications, and the perception of Pac-12 football on the national scene, this is an intriguing matchup because of Cristobal's experience at Alabama before arriving in Eugene. Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn is well acquainted with the style of football Cristobal introduced at Oregon in his first season as head coach.
Week 2 — Sept. 7 vs. Nevada (Eugene, Ore.)
Former Arizona State assistant coach Jay Norvell has exceeded expectations at Nevada, finishing a surprising second in the Mountain West's West division. The consistency of a pass-happy offensive scheme has been lacking at times, but the defense came on surprisingly strong late in the 2018 season. The Wolf Pack are overmatched against Oregon on paper but could give the Ducks some work for a half.
Week 3 — Sept. 14 vs. Montana (Eugene, Ore.)
Longtime Div. I-AA/FCS powerhouse Montana has gone through an unfamiliar period of tumult in recent years. Hiring up-tempo, air-raid offense guru Bob Stitt did not work out as hoped, so Montana brass brought back Bobby Hauck. Hauck coached the Griz to the FCS championship game in 2009 before embarking on an ill-fated tenure at UNLV. He later joined Rocky Long's staff as an assistant at San Diego State.
Montana is still in as much of a rebuilding phase as a powerhouse can expect. Oregon should have no trouble, as has been the case for the Ducks against Big Sky Conference competition over the years. The Ducks have faced a Big Sky team each of the past four seasons and have won by an average margin of 27 points per game (43 points when excluding the 61-42 victory over Eastern Washington in 2015).
Week 4 — Sept. 21 at Stanford (Stanford, Calif.)
As the Pac-10 transitioned into the Pac-12, Oregon and Stanford ushered in the new era as the conference's premier programs. From 2009-15, every conference championship went through one of the two schools. The budding rivalry has gone somewhat cold in recent years, no longer functioning as a de facto gateway to the conference title now that USC and Washington account for the last three.
That could change in 2019, however. Oregon's presumptive front-runner status gets its first in-conference test, fittingly, against its rival. Stanford is undergoing some changes, but precedent suggests that's when David Shaw teams are at their best. Oregon will come to The Farm with revenge in mind after a dizzying, overtime loss in prime time last season.
Week 6 — Oct. 5 vs. Cal (Eugene, Ore.)
Former Oregon Duck Justin Wilcox introduced a style of football at Cal similar to the physical, defense-oriented approach Cristobal is installing at Oregon. It's worked well for the Golden Bears, who were surprise threats in 2017 and made a bowl game last season. Cal will be loaded on the defensive side of the ball, but its offense is a mystery heading into 2019.
Oregon cruised last year in Berkeley for the first meeting with both teams ranked in the Top 25 since 2009.
Week 7 — Oct. 11 vs. Colorado (Eugene, Ore.)
In Colorado's first five years of Pac-12 membership, the Buffaloes lost games to Oregon by margins of 43, 56, 41, 34 and 17 points. But the last time the two teams met, in 2016, Colorado scored a three-point win in a thrilling contest at Autzen Stadium.
The Buffs are back in rebuild mode after that surprising run to the Pac-12 Championship Game, parting ways with Mike MacIntyre near the end of last season. Mel Tucker is now on board, and Colorado is something of a wild card heading into the season.
Week 8 — Oct. 19 at Washington (Seattle)
Oregon has the benefit of eight days rest when it travels to face rival Washington in what could be the Pac-12 North championship. Yes, the showdown of these bitter rivals may be only midway through the slate, but the defending champion Huskies and presumptive favorite Ducks look like the teams to beat in the Pac-12.
Last season's Oregon overtime win set an exciting standard for a new era in the series. It also marked a coming-out party for running back C.J. Verdell, who bounded untouched into the end zone for the decisive score.
Week 9 — Oct. 26 vs. Washington State (Eugene, Ore.)
Mike Leach-coached teams have given Oregon problems consistently since the coach arrived at Pullman in 2012. After winning every matchup from 2007-14, the Ducks now carry a four-game losing streak in the series into the '19 installment.
Last year's matchup commemorated ESPN GameDay paying its first-ever visit to the Palouse. The energized Cougars wowed the packed Martin Stadium audience with a deluge in the first half, before holding off Oregon's second-half rally effort. This year's installment could have major trap-game potential, falling one week after the emotional Washington encounter, but Washington State's decisive win a season ago counters that element. This is a revenge game — and vitally important in the Pac-12 North race.
Week 10 — Nov. 2 at USC (Los Angeles)
USC and Oregon have been the two primary standard-bearers of the Pac-12 since 2001, claiming 12 conference championships between them in that time. Ironically, the two have rarely been at the top of their game at the same time. The 2005 and '11 seasons are the notable exceptions.
To wit, when they last faced in 2016, Oregon was in the home stretch of a 4-8 finish. USC was on its way to winning the Rose Bowl for the first time in eight years. And now, in 2019, Oregon looks like a prime contender for the Pac-12 championship. USC is rebuilding from a 5-7 finish and may well be playing for head coach Clay Helton's job at this juncture.
Week 12 — Nov. 16 vs. Arizona (Eugene, Ore.)
The second bye of Oregon's slate falls before a marquee revenge game. Pity Arizona, which comes to Eugene a little more than a year after blind-siding Oregon in a 44-15 rout.
Week 13 — Nov. 23 at Arizona State (Tempe, Ariz.)
Oregon's time in the Top 25 during the 2017 season didn't last long. One week after landing a spot in the polls, the Ducks lost on a final-minute field goal at Arizona State, continuing a trend of nail-biting finishes when Oregon and Arizona State face off.
Last season, a controversial call on a two-point conversion attempt denied Arizona State a tie game — and, ostensibly, a shot at the Pac-12 South title. The play was remarkably similar to Oregon's game-winning grab at Sun Devil Stadium in 2015, which ended an instant classic in overtime.
Week 14 — Nov. 30 vs. Oregon State (Eugene, Ore.)
The Civil War hasn't had the drama it carried at the end of the 2000s when matchups in both '08 and '09 contributed to the Rose Bowl picture. Oregon State is in the second season of a major rebuild under head coach Jonathan Smith. While improvement is likely, the Beavers are unlikely to contend with their in-state rivals.